On Sunday, the L.A. Times published an opinion piece by self-styled police watchdog Merrick J. Bobb, who praised a local police chief. Bobb’s commendation gained credibility from Bobb’s apparent status as a disinterested police expert, who seemingly owes no personal allegiance to the chief. What readers weren’t told is that the chief has been Bobb’s (presumably paid) consultant since 2004.
Above: Self-styled police “expert” Merrick Bobb
Praising his own consultant
Bobb’s piece centers around issues of police confidentiality in connection with an officer-involved shooting. After Pasadena police officers shot a suspect, Pasadena P.D. Chief Bernard Melekian sought to reveal the officers’ names at a news conference. A Pasadena police union obtained a court order to prevent the chief from revealing the officers’ identities, arguing that disclosure could subject the officers to retaliation from gang members. Bobb’s piece sided with the chief. From the very first sentence, Bobb heaps praise on Chief Melekian:
Bernard Melekian, Pasadena’s police chief and head of the California Police Chiefs Assn., is a model police executive — honest and forthright, dedicated to building community trust and willing to subject his department and himself to the scrutiny that comes with transparency.
Bobb’s piece repeatedly extols Melekian’s virtues. Bobb says the chief “followed the rules of good policing” and gushes: “[Chief Melekian's] willingness to hold himself and his department accountable to the general public is admirable.” Bobb’s sermon of praise ends with a paean to “transparency.”
How ironic that Bobb shows no “transparency” about his own relationship with Melekian.
Instead, the reader is led to assume that Bobb has no personal interest in defending Melekian:
Merrick J. Bobb is executive director of the nonprofit Police Assessment Resource Center and special counsel monitoring the Sheriff’s Department for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
What Bobb fails to mention, and The Times does not disclose, is that Melekian is a paid employee of Bobb’s consulting firm.* The web site for the aforementioned Police Assessment Resource Center lists Melekian as one of only two “senior advisors” to Bobb’s firm:
Chief Bernard Melekian joined PARC as a senior advisor in June 2004. He is the Police Chief of Pasadena, California, and has occupied that position since 1996.
Melekian’s presence at Bobb’s consulting firm lends Bobb credibility in claiming an understanding of police procedures and tactics. Melekian’s experience is critical, because Merrick Bobb has absolutely no police experience, whatsoever.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to have a background in law enforcement.”
Many police officers view Bobb with contempt. Not without justice, they consider Bobb to be a liberal tool who knows nothing about the reality of being a cop. For example, Roy Burns, a past president of ALADS (an association of L.A. County Deputy Sheriffs), once lashed into Bobb, saying:
He doesn’t understand what I do. He’s watched TV. He’s watched those police shows, and he thinks he knows about law enforcement. He doesn’t.
Burns added: “I find it [incredible] that our county, that our Board of Supervisors, would hire an individual to criticize our law enforcement that has no background in that field.”
Above: Almost certainly not Merrick Bobb
Bobb responded: “I don’t think it’s necessary to have a background in law enforcement.” Bobb argued that he understands police issues.
But Bobb’s claim depends in significant part on his use of police consultants like Melekian. For example, this report on officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths at the Portland Police Department states:
PARC retained two consultants—Chief Bernard Melekian and former Assistant Sheriff Michael Graham—with a wealth of sworn law enforcement experience and broad knowledge of policing practices across the country to participate in the case file reviews and in the formulation of the conclusions reached by this report.
Chief Melekian is regularly listed as a consultant in other reports prepared by PARC criticizing police agencies. For example, Melekian is listed as a key consultant in this 2008 report on uses of deadly force by the Denver Police Department, this August 2006 report about the Sheriff’s Department, and many other similar reports.
Understand clearly: when Bobb praises Melekian in Sunday’s op-ed, this is not some disinterested police watchdog larding praise on a random police chief. Bobb is propping up his pal — and failing to tell readers that fact.
Previous failures to disclose: 2006
Bobb is well accustomed to pretending to be a disinterested advocate for Melekian. In 2006, Bobb led a team that received almost $100,000 to conduct a survey of his own consultant’s police department. Unsurprisingly, the survey resulted in glowing praise for the department and its chief. Like Sunday’s op-ed, the resulting report did not mention Melekian’s status as a consultant for Bobb.
In April 2006, the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation bestowed a $94,997 grant on a team led by Bobb to survey the Pasadena Police Department’s officers and citizens. (See page 18 of the .pdf.) Bobb’s team concluded:
Chief Melekian and his command staff should take great pride and be publicly recognized for the extraordinarily high morale of Pasadena police officers and the high degree to which they are satisfied with their jobs and with their supervisors and command staff.
Great success! And in a “random” survey of Pasadena residents, Bobb’s team found that the good citizens of Pasadena generally loved their police department and their chief . . . who happened to be Merrick Bobb’s Senior Consultant:
Overall, the respondents expressed high rates of satisfaction with their contacts with the police and had positive perceptions of police effectiveness. While African-Americans and Latinos expressed more skepticism about police concern and misconduct, the study’s findings were that the PPD, under the leadership of Chief Bernard Melekian, had “embraced community policing and committed itself to reducing crime as well as improving community relations.”
The report nowhere mentions that the man whose police department was under Bobb’s intense “scrutiny” had been Bobb’s own consultant since 2004.
Previous failures to disclose: 2008
The love continued in 2008, with a report prepared by PARC pursuant to a grant from the Department of Justice. The report evaluated a “Pilot Community Policing Program” which was described as the brainchild of Chief Melekian and received high marks. The report stated that Chief Melekian’s apology to the community for injustices “real or perceived” was a positive step that “helped begin the process of reconciliation and set a positive tone.” The report added:
The PPD under Chief Bernard Melekian has wholeheartedly embraced community policing, as evidenced by the number of community policing initiatives and the high levels of support from its officers for working with the community. The Pasadena Program is just one such innovative initiative.
As in 2006, amid all the praise for Chief Melekian and his programs, the relationship between Bobb, PARC, and Melekian went unmentioned.
The L.A. Times drops the ball
When Bobb’s team gets paid nearly six figures to review the performance of his own consultant — while hiding the fact that the subject of his “scrutiny” is his own consultant — a newspaper truly devoted to performing a “watchdog” function should be all over such an undisclosed conflict. Bobb is hardly a mysterious figure among the local liberal elite; he is regularly cited by L.A. Times news articles that join the liberal cabal condemning local police departments for doing their jobs. You’d think a watchdog with such transparent conflicts might garner some scrutiny from the local newspaper.
You’d be wrong.
An article on the 2006 report was titled Glowing Report on Pasadena Police. It failed to note the business relationship between Bobb and the subject of his report. As far as I can tell, the 2008 report — and its failure to disclose the relationship between Bobb and Melekian — went unreported by the paper.
And now, the newspaper continues its head-in-the-sand mentality. Editors are apparently content to turn over their opinion pages for a repeat performance of Bobb’s adoration for his own consultant — with absolutely no disclosure of the relationship.
Pathetic. And yet, all too expected at this dying newspaper.
UPDATE: Much more on Bobb here.
UPDATE x2: I wrote Sue Horton, the paper’s Sunday opinion editor, about this. My letter is here.